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St. Charles County Council split over cost of living increase for county employees

The St. Charles Council is split over whether to include an additional 1-percent cost of living allowance in the 2019 county budget for the county’s more than 1,000 employees.

The county’s budget has to be passed before Jan. 1 when the city’s next fiscal year begins.

The council discussed the budget during its Dec. 3 work session and regular meeting but took no final action.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann had included a 2-percent merit increase plus a 1-percent cost of living increase for employees in his draft budget. Several councilmen said they favored an additional 1-percent cost of living increase. However, County Finance Director Bob Schnur had some bad news as far as the amount of sales tax the county had received and was projected to receive in November and December.

Projections that arrived the afternoon of Dec. 3 from the Missouri Department of Revenue suggested that revenue was down, meaning a possible loss of $1.5 million for the county. More than 60 percent of general fund revenues, which include salaries for county employees, comes from sales tax revenue.

A late payment of more than $900,000 in sale tax revenue last year from the state helped address needs in the 2017 budget. But Schnur said he doesn’t expect any late payments at the end of this year and sales tax revenue may drop even more.

“Things have headed south in a fairly rapid fashion,” Schnur said.

Still, councilmemberd Joe Cronin [District 1], Dave Hammond [District 4] and Joe Brazil [District 2] favored the added 1-percent cost of living increase. Even with a lower percentage increase, the county may get enough tax revenue to afford the [pay] increase, Cronin said.

Cronin said the county was “not paying a sufficient cost of living for the guys that are patching our potholes and defending our families.” Both he and Hammond suggested that the county could wait and see what revenue the county receives, which Schnur said will be clear by late February or March, and hire additional personnel then.

For now, holding off on hiring a county information system employee might free up $480,000 that could go toward the 1-percent cost of living raise, Cronin said.

“Let’s take care of our employees before we run off and hire new ones,” said Hammond, who also is the council chairman.

County officials and councilmembers agreed that the county may have to cut positions proposed for the 2019 budget to make up the additional raises. The 2019 budget includes 15 new positions including five in the information systems department, a caseworker and five new corrections custodians, a forensic scientist, shooting range director and fraud detective in the police department.

Brazil said he would not go along with any cuts to personnel for the police department.

Schnur cautioned the council during the first reading of the budget bill.

“I’m saying very firmly to you that I believe it would be unwise to budget any further appropriations in this budget and keep that small buffer we have in place,” Schnur said. “Because if you go head spend any additional money out of this budget thinking about revenues that might come along, we don’t think so. You’re digging a hole for next year we have to overcome before we even think about pay raises and that sort of thing.”

Meanwhile, councilmembers Matt Elam [District 3], John White [District 7] and Terry Hollander [District 5] said they favored going along with the county administration’s budget recommendations, which Hollander said were “well vetted.”

“Based on my experience, I’m just in favor of what they advise,” White said, although he added that he would go along with a raise if the county finds it has enough sales tax revenue early next year.

Councilmember Michael Klinghammer [District 6] said the additional 1 percent was a “noble idea” but he couldn’t vote on the Cronin motion without more information.

Ehlmann said county staff would be available to help the council with its questions in the next several weeks. The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17.

Noting that the council was split, Elam declared, “Congratulations, Mr. Klinghammer. We just put you in the middle.”

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